30 for 30: Alcohol

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

19. ALCOHOL

Don Draper knows how to have a drink

Alcohol. Even without it, it’s played a big part in my life.

I did not drink from until I was 25. I had the odd sip here and there since I was 15, but up until that point I was lucky to have had more than two standard drinks through my system.

(This of course excludes dickheads I know who made it their mission in life to spike my drinks. More on this later, but god, as the years go by those people look so small.)

I drink now, and enjoyed drinking with all my friends in Europe and America. I don’t make a big deal of my sober years – sometimes it’s mentioned and people probably think it’s a joke. That’s ok, that’s kind of the point.

Throughout my life, especially in my early 20s, people would ask me why I didn’t drink.

Anyway, I thought I’d address it

So – why don’t you drink?

The easy answer is that there was no easy answer. I bowled into not drinking by accident – there was no single moment where the red sea parted. I find it strange that people look for one.

I have to say, people asking me why I didn’t drink was more often than not annoying as fuck. Not everyone, but the people who look for that easy answer, and would try and drill it out of me, are fucking idiots. The same kind of idiots who need plotlines spelt out for them, and like police procedural dramas. Facts facts facts.

I assume they do this to understand my choice, but they also do it to belittle it. Oh, if Danny’s Dad didn’t drink, he would be on my level. Oh if Danny didn’t have a health problem, he’d be on my level. Health was the worse one. What the fuck? Was I that skinny that I looked like I belonged in a hospital? The point here is I don’t understand how people can’t see there are millions of reasons to not drink. And someone might just simply not want to.

(Health? Really. I always wanted to respond with, “why doesn’t your brain work? Health?”)

The other really important thing I learnt really early is there is a type of person who took personal offence at me not drinking. I never, ever took a high horse about not-drinking. I never discouraged anyone from drinking – EVER. It’s a personal choice. I’m not vegetarian about it – I didn’t set myself up as an example for my friends or the people I knew. I never went to, say, any anti-drinking meetings or joined any official club.

But just by being different, it made me a target. The line, I think you know it, is –

“You think you’re better than me?”

A drunken hipster slurring this at me and poking his finger in my chest saying this to me, I have to say I do think I’m better than you. Dealing with this in the last year of high school was ok – I was smart enough to know that we were just dumb kids acting like we knew anything. But dealing with it in my mid-20s was depressing. I saw the world doesn’t change.

On a related note, it annoyed me when someone downing a beer would tell me not to smoke. Not that the two things are interchangeable – but come on! I don’t tell you what to or what not to put in your system. We’re all adults. And it’s an indefensible position – but I know more people who died from over drinking (3) than smoking (0).

(Again that is not an easy answer, CSI fans. People are more complicated than that.)

One of the important things in my life around this time (and massively related) was a love of hardcore punk. And throughout my life I’ve never forgotten this quote from Henry RollinsIf you’re pissing someone off, you must be doing something right.

If anyone wonders if it was hard to not drink for so long, I think of that quote, and the dickheads I met, and really…no. It was the easiest thing in the world.

Anyway, you didn’t answer the question. You just went on about people you didn’t like. So why didn’t you drink?

It was a number of reasons, that all added up. I am a self aware bastard, and it just seemed at any point, not drinking was the right life choice to make.

Firstly, alcohol never seemed dangerous to me. There was always alcohol in the house. Dad drank. Uncles drank. Having such an awesome Dad, he was pretty happy for me to have a sip if I wanted to. Thing was, I didn’t. Maybe there is an iota of rebellion – my Dad drank so I didn’t. But I wanted to be my Dad my whole life. Probably closer to the truth was my childhood was such a delight of food that why would I drink that sour stuff. Pass me a chocolate milk.

So when booze made it’s way into parties at age 15, it seemed really uncool to drink. It was almost like when porn mags got passed around at school, and you wanted to act casual. Oh boobs – I’ve seen so many of them. I don’t know why I felt this way, but I just had this reaction of “I don’t need that”. That was coupled with trying to talk to girls, and I kind of wanted my wits about me.

This was another reason. I have such a chip on my shoulder about being smart – or appearing smart. I didn’t speak English for so long, and drinking would seem to turn me back into a dumb kid. And I was a small kid – I didn’t trust the bigger blokes to not beat the shit out of me at a whim. So I wanted to keep my head, and my bones, intact.

Then there was music. In my teens, I loved the Ramones. Their song, Teenage Lobotomy, really hit me (“D-U-M-B, everyone’s accusing me”). I wanted to do the smart thing. Then came hardcore punk – Rollins Band, Minor Threat, Fugazi etc. And many of those bands didn’t drink. I didn’t follow those bands to the end of the world – but not knowing that much about music, it seemed like half the bands I liked didn’t drink. It made the decision less weird.

Music took over my life, and there was another very important non drinking musician I discovered. Chris Murphy from the Canadian band Sloan. I could not love that band any more than I do. And when my world view was more balanced and saw alcohol was all over the rock world, Chris Murphy stayed sober. And he didn’t make a deal about it. I wanted to be Chris Murphy. I play the bass he plays.

He has a line that I used often – I can do anything you can do, and without a crutch. Which was THE WHOLE POINT. Just because I didn’t drink didn’t mean I couldn’t stay up til 4am talking music. I can get up and speak to a big crowd. I could talk to and hold meaningful conversations with women. I didn’t need to drink to work up my confidence. I learnt to be confident.

But it wasn’t just Sloan – it was grunge as a whole. You remember the early 90s, where it seemed like we were this broken generation? Hurt by our parents, born to a greedy world, full of sadness? (God I loved grunge). It seemed like as a grunge kid, I should be standing against frat thugs. I’m not sure I knew any frat thugs other than on TV. But we were the weirdos – we smoked, we didn’t drink.

The other thing music did to my drinking was it made it hard for me to afford alcohol. Or anything else. I bought so many records. Think of how much money you spent on booze til you were 25. And I managed to get a decent job quite early too. And I threw all that into music. Which is why I have the best CD collection in Australia for my age group (I take this as a fact – if there was someone close we would know).

But by this time, I was just not used to drinking. The idea of including beer in my grocery budget just seemed weird. And I was used to my diet cokes and smokes.

This upbringing also brought with it all the stereotypes of ignorance. I didn’t like the smell of beer. I didn’t like having beer spilt on me at gigs, and over my shoes. I certainly didn’t like looking after people as they threw up.

Then there was drugs. Drugs starting entering my life around 22/23, living in Newtown, ending up in folks houses. I didn’t really want to be around that, and having the reputation of being a non drinker, it was really easy to get away. Nothing more annoying than a drunk saying “Come on man, stay! Stay!”. Drugs really made me feel my decision to not drink was the right one (as I walked home smoking).

I had some great friends who treated me no different. In fact almost everyone did – but I guess the ones who didn’t, didn’t want to be around me. In our little Newtown scene at the time, I can think of only one other person who didn’t drink – Craig. And I love Craig, one of the most charming people I’ve ever met. And again, it just made me feel like my choice was right.

It was also nice shorthand to deal with scenester dickheads. Basically around the scene there was two things people knew about me – 1) I loved the band You Am I and 2) I didn’t drink. (I guess 3) I’m Asian). And I was pretty happy to just let people think that of me, and have dozens of 2 minute conversations a night about Hourly, Daily, and why I didn’t drink (no, not ever)…blah blah blah. And then they could go away.

I realise now that I was incorrect with one thing – drinking turned people into dickheads. That’s not true at all. Drinking highlights pre-existing dickheads. Some people give drinking a really bad name. But I love the company of so many of my friends when they are drunk. To this day if someone rubs me the wrong way drunk, then I have nothing to do with them sober.

You get to the point that I call ‘Fox News’ – where you only look at things to re-enforce your beliefs. I hated the idea that as a musician, I was a glorified beer seller. I knew the facts about alcohol and violence. I had this weird sci-fi idea in my head about us being a drunk planet. All of that didn’t mean anything in the end.

So that was my life. Living in Newtown, a tolerant but boozy suburb, but surrounded by great friends who understood me. Not drinking allowed me to check out of the parts I didn’t want to be a part of, and I had no trouble doing all the things I did want to do.

Truth be told, not drinking never seemed like a big deal to me. I don’t know what I don’t know and I simply did not know what the big deal was. I was too busy buying albums anyway.

So why do you drink now?

I started drinking when I decided to leave for overseas.

This was a bigger decision than not-drinking. The reasons are easier to define.

I wont have my friends around, and the idea of having the same 5 minute conversation every hour about why I didn’t drink seemed horrible.

It was all about new experiences.

I didn’t want to stand out.

So nowadays, I drink.

And right now, I am thinking about stopping again. Hangovers are not fun. God knows I could use the money.

Something a bit more balanced? Just stick to the nice stuff, whiskeys and wines.

I’m not sure yet.

Whatever I do, it’s not a big deal.

ODD BONUS BLOG!  When I was 24, I wrote this imaginary interview with myself about this subject.

You can find it here.

30 for 30: Yum Cha

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

12. YUM CHA

Some Yum Cha dishes - l-r: Spinach & Nuts Dumpling, Spare Ribs, Siu Mai, Har Gau and some Cheung Phun up front

I am a big fan of Yum Cha – it’s my favourite type of food. In the US and the UK it’s known as Dim Sum.

Why the two terms? I have no idea either – but I can tell you what each one means.

Yum Cha” literally means “Drink Tea”. Tea being a big part of this kind of eating. Basically, Chinese (or specifically Cantonese) people will say “let’s drink tea” and it will mean let’s go to a Yum Cha.

Dim Sum” means the dumpling things that make up a bulk of the meal. Har Gau, Siu Mai etc.

If I have to hazard a guess, Yum Cha is tied to the experience. In Hong Kong, Yum Cha places are used like cafes. People will meet up over a tea, a small amount of dishes, and carry on with their day. Even teenagers after school might stop in for a snack. Which is why outside of the US and UK, Yum Cha is used. The whole dining experience is where you can get this kind of food.

In the US and UK however, there is an abundance of choice. And if people wanted those types of dumplings and things, they would ask for Dim Sum, and maybe at places other than Yum Cha places. Also, the lack of trolleys, the way the cost is worked out, all differs from the traditional Hong Kong experience.

That is just a guess, anyway.

For my purposes, I’m calling it Yum Cha. So many things are not technically Dim Sum, and it’s the whole dining, and this whole Chinese Food subculture, that interests me.

It is fun for me to see how places spell Yum Cha foods. I’ve seen various variations. It is confusing for me, and confusing for my friends who don’t speak Chinese. I’ll use the ones I see the most often.

Here are my favourite things to eat at Yum Cha.

Siu Mai (Wikipedia calls it Shumai – sounds nothing like the actual words.) and Har Gau. Siu Mai is the pork dumpling in a yellow wrap. Har Gau is the prawn dumpling in the white, almost clear skin. It is pretty much essential to have these fantastic dishes at every Yum Cha experience.

Har Gau and Siu Mai must have actually gotten married at some point. They are always tied together. They are sold together. Always in the same trolley. The ladies yell out “Har Gau, Siu Mai” even if there’s other things in the trolley. If they yell out more, these two still get top billing. They are the Lennon and McCartney of Yum Cha. I’m not quite sure why they go together, but they do. They are delicious. I love them.

Then there’s Cheung Phun (literally, “sausage noodle”). Three strips of soft wide noodle, wrapped around beef, prawns or pork. There are other variations and they are stupid. Dollop on a lot of soy sauce and you are off. You know you have gotten chopsticks down when you can chop these babies in half. There is a lightly fried version too.

So most people like those, easy to eat things. My next favourites are a bit weirder. Steamed Spare Ribs and Fung Jiao (i.e. Chicken feet). So they might look scary to some – and they take a bit of effort, but are so worth it. Essentially, you strip the meat off the bone in your mouth, then spit of the bones. Not something to do on a date, then. But the steamed meat falls off the bones, and the sauces are delicious. Having lots of friends who don’t like these dishes mean more for me.

Lucky for my British friends that I have not been able to find the Mixed Cow Tripe Stew. The most disgusting looking bits of cow stomach, liver, intestine, in the best sauce. A favourite of my Dad’s and mine, many Sundays have been spent stuffing our faces whilst my Mum looks on, slightly disapprovingly.

With those standards out of the way, the rest is usually what tickles my fancy on the day. Steamed Meatballs are a great, simple dish. The Sticky Rice that comes wrapped in leaves is great when you’re really hungry. In London, there is usually other dumplings to try.

I usually ignore anything that is deep fried. I’ve never been a big fan of Congee, which I guess can be called a savoury rice porridge. The popular Char Siu Bao – roast pork buns – are great, but I usually don’t bother with them either. This is mainly because all kids love them, and I want to feel like I’ve grown up and eating the more complicated stuff. It’s the shadow of my Dad there.

Don’t forget the Tea, too. There are lots of different types of tea – and I know none of them. My Mum has somehow taken the role of tea chooser in our family. The waiter asks, and we all look to Mum. I’ve asked her why she chooses certain ones (“I wanted something sweeter”, “I don’t feel like something strong”), but for me, tea is just something to wash down the chili sauce. My tongue at Yum Cha doesn’t really deal with subtleties.

Deserts are an uncommon treat for me. I almost never have them. But who doesn’t love a good Egg Tart? Kylie loved these Pastry Balls In Cinnamon. The various jellies on offer look, even at the best places, shit. Why would you go to Yum Cha to have Jelly?

Growing up, you would wait for Sundays because more often than not, those were Yum Cha days. Sometimes just my family, sometimes with another family and heck, sometimes just me and Dad. We would travel far and wide for the best places, driving for hours. We’d get there early, get our ticket number and wait.

It strikes me that Yum Cha is a lot about waiting. It is, really, one of the least efficient ways to eat. For those who have never seen it, the real way to Yum Cha is to have ladies with trolleys of food running around the tables. So the food is sitting around getting a bit cold. It takes ages for the food to actually get to you, and as an impatient kid you’d be looking around for that damn Cheung Phun lady to come around already. And imagine how many more tables they could fit in without needing those trolley lanes.

That said, having had eaten at places when you order, it’s no fun having no trolleys. It just feels like a meal. You want to marvel at what is in those trolleys. It’s almost like a strip bar – you wave a lady down and ask her to show you what she’s got.

Yum Cha ladies are either horrifically unattractive or look like a 15 year old girl in a Manga. There’s no middle ground. It’s completely sexist. In thirty years I have never, ever, seen a male Yum Cha Trolley Attendant. I thought at one point I would like to be the first – a pioneer –  and maybe Sean Penn can play me in the movie of my life.

James and I suspected as kids that the men who worked in Yum Cha places were actually Ninjas. The way they set a table is pretty amazing. Take a 3 metre wide circular table, and one guy can lay out all the cups and bowls, thrown from one spot. Seeing a group of them working as a team is like watching the London Philharmonic just fucking nailing it. It also makes sense that Ninjas would need a day job and it would be a decent cover. I am still waiting for that Jackie Chan movie where he crashes a Yum Cha place, and the waiters turn into Ninjas. Called Yum Cha Ninja. This shit writes itself.

Tash made a very good point about Yum Cha a couple of years ago that has stuck with me. She never knows how much she is paying. Payment is a piece of paper with Chinese words, and a whole bunch of stamps. There’s no correlation between what you ate and what is on the sheet. There is no indication of how much each dish costs. My Dad knows a lot of cooks and manages to wrangle a discount. The discount is in the form of some dude scribbling his name on the form. I looked at one once and thought – yeah, never paying full price here again. He just wrote a fancy letter ‘S’.

(UPDATE: James points out that discounts are always free tea, not an actual percentage discount.)

Sydney Yum Cha is so great, it’s hard to pick a favourite based on food. There are some famous ones – Marigold on Sussex Street, the one above Market City. But my favourite one is one I don’t know the name of. It’s at the north end of Dixon Street in Chinatown. There is a Chinese Pagoda, and you have to walk through it and up the escalator.

It’s a Yum Cha restaurant that lives next to pokies. It looks like an RSL. It has the cheapest décor you can imagine. But I like it’s simplicity. There are very few non Chinese people around, or tourist rabble. Just genuine, proper Yum Cha. And yes, we should definitely go one day.

London seems to have given up on trolley service, mainly. The one place that still has it is New World in Chinatown. I am there every second or third Sunday.

But most places, you have to order from the menu. The food is alright. They’ve also introduced some fancy cooking – chef’s special dumplings etc. I try to care, but it’s hard. Then there’s Yau-At-Cha, renowned chef Alan Yau’s deluxe Yum Cha restaurant. (This) Yau invented Wagamamas. Yau-At-Cha is the only Michelin star place I’ve ever been too that didn’t involve work (and I only went twice with work). It cost Jo and I around £80 each and it wasn’t that great.

Then there’s Ping Pong, a chain Dim Sum place. Not even close to the Yum Cha experience. On Sundays that have Dim Sumdays – £16.50 for all you can eat. Dan Ryan reckons he was once in a table of 8 and destroyed 83 dishes. We tried to repeat it and got to 79. Although I blame Lou for ordering vegetables and was too busy actually talking and being nice.

Like I said earlier, Yum Cha is a family thing. I’m amazed how many of my friends love it though. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. And I love taking people and showing them how it’s done. It’s amazing how they see it though. For some people, it’s their hangover cure. And it works.

Lately, I go on my own. Must be weird for the people at New World on a busy Sunday. Me, a book, table for one, thanks. It’s always the dream. No filler, no sharing. Just the dishes I want, and not only being able to have one of each thing. It takes up so much time so it’s perfect reading time.

Hopefully by the time I’m 60, and I revisit these blogs, I will have introduced my own family to this stuff. Trolley culture has not died off completely. I’m still able to have the odd meal on my own. And maybe, if we as a planet are really lucky, they will finally settle on a name and just call in Yum Cha all over the world.

Dim Sum my arse.

Food World Cup 2010 – 1. FRANCE

1. FRANCE

Chez Kristof
111 Hammersmith Grove
London W6 0NQ
website

So begins Food World Cup 2010!

It wasn’t actually supposed to start just yet, but I some time yesterday doing research and organising company for food adventures. And that night, I happened to be going to a nice restaurant with my work colleagues – both from my team and internationally. It was a great meal, and so why not kick off?

The place is Chez Kristof on Hammersmith Grove, in Hammersmith. The road is a little hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Hammersmith. It’s one of those pretty, leafy streets that I love about West London. The cuisine is French.

In London, we are spoilt for French food. They are everywhere. Most trendy restaurant areas have a Cote, a chain of French restaurants. There’s actually one right outside my office building, and we frequent it a lot. There’s Bloody French in Westbourne Grove and my favourite Bar Du Marche in Soho. Of course, most people just catch the train to Paris.

Which is a long way for me to say I skipped the French delicacies like Steak Tartare over other things, because I was quite hungry.

Crab Linguini

For starters, I ordered the Crab Linguini. Not particularly French, but it was lovely. Some of us ordered the Steak Tartare – which I normally LOVE.

Steak Tartare with cool egg

Steak Tartare with cool egg

Everyone who had it thought the Steak Tartare was lovely. It looked very fine – I’m used to it being a bit more chunky. What I really loved though, was the egg that came with it, actually presented in half an egg shell.

Middlewhite Pork

For mains, I went for the Middlewhite Pork. It came in a lovely Prune sauce, and a side of spring greens. The pork had a whole inch of fat on it – Fabian who ordered the same had to skip it. It’s pretty full on. The crackling was like metal. Which is actually how like pork belly.

I really don’t know how French the meal I had was. But it is what French dining in London is like. It’s quite a posh dining experience, and they use British produce. I don’t know if I’ll ever go to Chez Kristof again – it’s expensive and has that generic posh dining atmosphere. Not really my thing if I had a choice. But lovely regardless.

This is the first time I’ve really tried blogging about food, having been reading food blogs for a long time. I need to take better photos, and keep a better eye on the menu. I don’t know what the red wine we had was – and maybe that tells you how good it was. I mean, can you really go wrong with a French Red?

One down, 31 to go.

Food World Cup 2010 – Introduction

Yum

I am trying to make the most of London. Coming up with silly challenges seems to be the goal. So I am stealing an idea my cousin had for Sydney, but doing it in London. It’s a Food World Cup.

Basically, during the course of the FIFA World Cup, I am going to try and eat food from all 32 countries that have qualified.

A few thoughts going into it:

1) I am probably not going to get all 32, but I will try. Some cheating (diving?) might have to be done. Both Korean nations will get grouped together.

2) You’d be surprised how many of the obscure countries have a food presence in London. Ghana, South Africa, Brazilian, Argentinean, Swiss… all these are sorted. Add to that the wonderful food markets in London, and it’s going to make for a fun little exercise.

3) It’s not all going to be in London. There are a few trips already planned in the UK, and I will be looking for good food in those places.

4) It’s not all going to be restaurants either. Food stalls, fun snacks, maybe even some cooking on my part? Who knows.

5) I am going to play it pretty loose with the dates. In fact, I’ve got a two week head start. It is a summer project. And many poor friends have been dragged into this as well.

6) I wish the nation of Dim Sumnia made the World Cup.

Bon apetite!

30 for 30: Smoking

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

1. SMOKING

I had my first cigarette in school, like most people do. But it wasn’t until I was around 20 that I really, really took to it.

Now, I know there’s no way to justify smoking. There just isn’t. It’s utterly indefensible. I don’t really support people taking up smoking – although if you are a smoker already, then chances are I love having a cigarette with you. The best way to avoid it is t0 never start.

Tara once told me, quite matter-of-factly, that she just went for that whole ‘Just Say No’ campaign of the 80s.

So, with that said, none of the following justifies smoking. I’m going to say stuff like how much “I like Zippo lighters”, for instance. And an adoration for Zippo lighters in no way justifies the slow destruction of my body.

These days I am down to a pack every 3 or 4 days. A couple during work and a couple at night. Packs in London are only 20s, whereas in Sydney for many years I was half a (25) pack a day.

The real numbers come up when drinking. I can probably go through 2 cigarettes a pint, and I’m consciously pacing myself. If I’m drinking at a beer garden and sure no one will notice, I will chain smoke when I drink.

Smoking suits my restlessness. As Jo said to me once, it’s really unfair how she, as a non smoker, doesn’t get to just go out of a building and have a few minutes to herself, several times a day.

I especially loved this when I was seeing gigs and going to pubs and clubs. 2am, sober, surrounded by drunken hipsters and loud music – the excuse to get out of there for a few minutes is heaven. I don’t know how people stand being in those places for hours upon hours. Grabbing your drink, a fellow smoker, and getting a break from all that – it’s brilliant.

Constantly heading out for a cigarette – a few times a day for ten years – I wonder how it’s affected me. Has it turned me further into an introvert? In any given situation, I can get up, go, and just be in my own thoughts almost straight away. Just stop, and think.

The other thing is I’ve perfected is the five minute conversation. Heading out for a cigarette is an open invitation. Basically, anyone in your little party is allowed to join you. And you have five minutes to find that common ground, roll around in it, then head back inside. It doesn’t matter if you’re a friend of a friend of a friend, etc who just turned up for a little bit.

I have gotten to know a lot of people this way. Not many friends I know are smokers – but most of my best friends are. We just spend more quality time together. I think of my friend Piero, who I worked with for a few months. But our cigarette breaks were where I really got to know him. People I’ve worked closer with for 4 times that length – I know nothing about them.

My Dad smokes. And I don’t remember anyone else in my family smoking, growing up. I think my brother must have when we were younger. Mum hated the things and still does. Even aunties and uncles were pretty much non-smokers.

Not that Dad ever gave me a cigarette. It did his health no good in the end. He shouldn’t be smoking, but it’s hard. He’s old, and he’s been doing it all his life. Think about how easy it would be for YOU to give up something you’ve been doing several times a day for decades on end.

Don’t give me that “It’s killing you” bullshit. If I said to you that you had to give up ice cream, or chocolate, or coffee, etc. After you’ve had it for DECADES. It’s not easy. And it’s not like it’s a sudden, allergic reaction. One bit of ice cream is not going to kill you. But it will make you sicker, as your whole body is getting sicker anyway. So get off that high horse.

But I bring that up because that is justification for my Dad. I still have the odd cigarette after dinner with Dad in our backyard when I’m home. It’s our time together. We both wait all day for that moment. Who wants to live longer if I can’t have those moments.

I can’t roll cigarettes. If I could, I think I would have saved thousands of dollars over the years. In a way, it’s the coolest way to smoke. And so often, I feel like a few puffs but not a whole cigarette. Rollies would be the way.

Learning now kind of feels like giving in. Learning a new skill to help improve my smoking, and to save me money in doing it, seems like a big commitment. And every smoker is trying to cut down or quit. That just seems a step in the wrong direction.

Also, learning seems embarrassing. I know in theory how to do it, I just need to buy the filters and the tobacco and practise. Just sit around one weekend and smoke and practise.

But buying tobacco and filters at the same time, makes me feel like I’m a kid smoking for the first time. You know when you skipped school and you could smoke, but of course you didn’t even own a lighter? And you would buy smokes AND a lighter and it would give you away? I’m turning 30 and I still feel that way. I feel like if I buy filters and tobacco at the same time, the guy behind the counter will declare me an amateur and take away my smoking rights.

My brand is Marlboro Lights. On the odd chance there isn’t Marlboro Lights I would smoke Camels. This has happened maybe 4 times in the last decade. In France I smoke Gauloises because I am a try-hard Frenchie and I would do anything to pretend I lived there.

Why Marlboro lights? Mainly because the musicians that I liked who smoked, they smoked Marlboro lights. Before you declare me superficial, this is the reason why music sponsorships are a multi million dollar industry. Also, I’m not alone in this. Marlboro Lights are what the Strokes smoke. I know nothing else about the Strokes. But In know THAT. Because someone told me. Also, I know what my friends smoke. It’s just something I notice.

I try to get soft packs if I can but they are harder to find in London. There is a very specific way of ripping part of the foil at the top (on just one side of the sticker on the top face) so they dispense easily but the pack still keeps it’s shape. The advantage of the soft pack is they don’t destroy every pair of jeans you own with sharp cardboard corners. They also look a million times cooler.

My first lighter was a proper sized Bic lighter. I still have it, I know where it is. I prefer the smaller Bic lighters, the ones that are like 5cm tall and run out in barely a week. I went through so many of these. They are also light and small and slip easily into a soft pack once you’re had three or four.

In London, I use clipper lighters. This is because one of my first jobs in London, the company I worked for created boxes of promotional lighters. Then they worked out they couldn’t send lighters with flammable liquid in the mail. So I took a few boxes. 4 years later I still use them.

I have been given some great smoking presents. My favourites are the Zippo with the Fender logo on it (Casey), a cool 1930s looking robot ashtray (Marianne) and a flip top ball thing that was also an ashtray, that I adore (Johanna).

When am I going to quit? I really don’t know. Honestly, I probably never will completely.

There’s that age old image of the old man having a cigar after dinner. Maybe with a bit of whiskey. Knowing my friends, that cigar will be a joint. A small indulgence. And smoking will be mine. If I ever do quit for a while, and I start again, then that’s just the way it is. I don’t really take the idea of quitting seriously.